Derp Nation

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disasters, natural and unnatural, elections

Headline on an AP Story: “Exit poll: Voters unhappy with Obama and GOP.” So they elect more Republicans to send to Washington? Why do voters hate America?

We’re in for a nasty couple of years.

Peter Baker writes in the NY Times that President Obama is “fighting for his own relevance.” But President Obama’s relevance is the least of my concerns today. What’s really at stake is America’s relevance. If we thought U.S. politics has mostly been a clown show for the past 20 years, I fear that was just the warm up act. I know we’ve been joking for years about moving to Canada, but frankly were I a young person I would seriously be considering finding a more stable country to live in. We can’t keep this up.

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Election Returns

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Obama Administration

Pennsylvania will have a Democratic governor next year. Tom Corbett is out. The winner’s name is Tom Wolf. The GOP has picked up one Senate seat, in West Virginia. Mitch McConnell and a bunch of other incumbents have been re-elected. It’s probably going to be awhile before we know much

(Update) I see that the Republican, Tom Cotton, has won the Arkansas Senate race over the incumbent Mark Pryor. So that’s two pickups for Republicans.

I’m watching MSNBC and for the past half hour we’ve been told over and over that Mitch McConnell won. Move on already. Also I turn the sound off for the speeches. They’re too annoying.

Actually it’s better with the sound off all the time.

(update) Al Franken wins another term. Scott Brown lost in New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen wins another term.

(update) Wendy Davis lost in Texas. She was running for governor.

(update) The Louisiana Senate race is going to go to a runoff. It won’t be settled until December. I’m not waiting up.

(update) The Republicans picked up another Senate seat, in Montana.  That’s four.

(update) Mark Udall lost to the Republican challenger Cory Gardner, so that’s five. Republicans need just one more win to take over the Senate.

(Update) Damn. Scott Walker won.

(Update)  I’m seeing on the Web that Rick Scott was re-elected in Florida, but I don’t think I’ve seen this on MSNBC.

(Update) Looks like Pat Roberts is going to return to the Senate, too. Damn.

(Update) Ernst wins in Iowa.

Well, I’m depressed enough now, so I’m calling it quits for tonight.

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See You Later

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elections

I have a lot to do today, but consider this an open thread. I’ll plan on live-blogging election returns tonight unless it gets too depressing. Feel free to drop by if you need company.

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I’m Getting Tired of Winning by Losing

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elections

Dems are bracing themselves for losing the Senate tomorrow. Some are consoling themselves by saying this will be a wake-up call for progressives. To which I say, sweetums, if they ain’t awake already, I don’t know what’s going to do it.

Others are saying there are very tight races in states that will be key in the next Electoral College count, and given the “fundamentals” Republicans ought to be doing better, and this is a bad omen for them in 2016. In other words, a near miss is something like a win for the Dems. But a near miss is still a near miss.

Some commenters think the GOP is bound to overreach and spend the next two years making fools of themselves and proving their own ineptitude, and they won’t have Harry Reid to blame any more. Ah, but they can still blame President Obama. So sorry if I’m not in silver lining mode right now.

I’m personally hoping to see some governors going away, notably Brownback, Walker and Scott. These are very close races. Right now Brownback and Scott are considered likely to lose and Walker to win, but they’re all going to be nail biters.

But, y’know, in a sane world it shouldn’t even be close.

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Bring Back MWO

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elections, News Media, Obama Administration

Not to bum you out or anything, but it appears Iowa is about to elect a certifiable whackjob to the Senate. Molly Ball writes at The Atlantic,

Joni Ernst is an Iowan, born and bred, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, and the Republican nominee for the Senate in Iowa. She has also flirted seriously with wacky conspiracy theories, especially Agenda 21, which takes off from an innocuous, voluntary UN resolution and turns it into a sinister plot which, as the John Birch Society says, “seeks for the government to curtail your freedom to travel as you please, own a gas-powered car, live in suburbs or rural areas, and raise a family. Furthermore, it would eliminate your private property rights through eminent domain.” And she has made comments about Americans totally dependent on government that make Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” observations look almost populist by comparison.

She’s a Michele Bachmann clone, in other words, but she’ll be in the Senate where she can do a lot more damage than Bachmann could in the House. Thanks loads, Iowa.

However, we might not entirely blame Iowans. Molly Ball also writes that news stories and profiles of Ernst in mainstream media make her seem harmless, even charming.

The other day, The Washington Post carried a front-page profile of Joni Ernstby feature reporter Monica Hesse. The piece was particularly striking—a long, warm, almost reverential portrait of a woman candidate charming Iowans by doing it “the Iowa way”—no doubt, an accurate portrayal by a veteran journalist. Hesse did suggest, in passing, that Ernst has taken some controversial positions in the past, such as supporting “personhood,” but emphasized that she has walked them back. Not mentioned in the piece was Ernst’s flirtation with one of the craziest conspiracy theories, or her comments on dependency—or her suggestion that she would use the gun she packs if the government ever infringed on her rights.

For those of you who don’t remember, the MWO in the title refers to one of the first liberal blogs that made an impact, Media Whores Online. MWO was the blog everybody talked about in 2002, but then it ceased to be, sometime in 2003 I think. As I remember it, MWO was instigated in part to rage against the fawning deference and considerable slack news media had given GW Bush in the 2000 campaign, as opposed to the pubescent piling on of Al Gore, who was treated as the kid nobody wanted at his lunchroom table.

Ball writes that media is falling into its old habit of writing The Narrative. The Narrative is the story of the campaign, or the general theme in which political coverage is framed. Use of The Narrative is a natural storytelling device that makes politics news stories more interesting to the public at large, I suppose, but it also  introduces considerable bias.

I found an article from the 1990s discussing the media’s tendency to create frames that are “frequently drawn from, and reflective of, shared cultural narratives and myths and resonate with the larger social themes to which journalists tend to be acutely sensitive.” Although it goes back several years I think what it describes is still going on. See also “The Master Narrative in Journalism” by Jay Rosen.

Molly Ball writes,

The most common press narrative for elections this year is to contrast them with the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. Back then, the GOP “establishment” lost control of its nominating process, ended up with a group of extreme Senate candidates who said wacky things—Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle—and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in races that should have been slam dunks. Now the opposite has happened: The establishment has fought back and won, vanquishing the Tea Party and picking top-flight candidates who are disciplined and mainstream, dramatically unlike Akin and Angle.

It is a great narrative, a wonderful organizing theme. But any evidence that contradicts or clouds the narrative devalues it, which is perhaps why evidence to the contrary tends to be downplayed or ignored. Meantime, stories that show personal gaffes or bonehead moves by the opponents of these new, attractive mainstream candidates, fit that narrative and are highlighted.

However, by all accounts Ernst and some of the other “establishment” GOP candidates are every bit as wacky as Akin or Angle, but the public wouldn’t know this by media coverage. The “establishment” Republican candidates are being fluffed, but as Ball describes, their Democratic opponents are not. Media are, possibly unconsciously, attempting to give the Senate to Republicans.

Steve M agrees but thinks Ball is missing the bigger story on The Narrative.

It’s also that the press agrees with the GOP (and much of the public) that Barack Obama is a terrible president who needs to be punished. Journalist resent Obama because he hasn’t always been nice to them (why weren’t they allowed to watch him play golf with Tiger Woods?). He hasn’t been the guy they thought he was in 2008, the the cool, hipster bro capable of solving all of America’s problems without breaking a sweat. He let them down, so no matter what it does to the country, they’re going to put the boot in as he gets stomped. Plus, they’ve already got a crush on a whole new crop of dreamboat frat boys — Rand, Jeb, Christie, Ryan. And besides, if they’re nasty toward the Democrats, maybe right-wingers will stop denouncing them as “the liberal media.” So what if that’s never happened before? It could totally happen now, right?

It’s Bush v. Gore coverage all over again. At least it’s just a midterm.

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Please Let’s Retire PC

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Obama Administration

I well remember that I first heard the term “political correctness” back in the 1970s used as a kind of self-deprecating joke about the many often clumsy strategies for getting gender and racial bias out of language in academia and leftie activist circles. We had to stop using “men” as a synonym for “the human species,” for example. The suffix -man was replaced with -person — spokesperson, chairperson. This was all exceeding strange at first, and sometimes got silly. Once when I was working in the textbook industry I came across a passage in which “Viking oarsmen” was changed to “Viking oarspersons” (I changed it back). We struggled with the nomenclature for racial and ethnic groups and the physically challenged (a prime PC term). I understand the term “political correctness” was borrowed from communist literature, but I’ve never read much communist literature so I wouldn’t know about that.

But for a long time PC has stopped meaning what it used to mean. It was taken over by the Right as a kind of all-purpose defense against hate speech, as in “you’re just being PC.” The Right actually sees what they think is PC as a kind of censorship, or a strategy by which the Left is trying to silence opposition. If it were, I think we can all agree it doesn’t work. It also seems to me that the Right screams more loudly and more often about language they don’t like than the Left, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Bill Maher’s loudly expressed hate speech against Islam got him dis-invited from speaking at UC Berkeley. I have mixed feelings about the young folks’ proclivities for canceling speech invitations, but it’s their campus, and at least they give a damn. And it’s not as if Bill Maher is not being heard elsewhere. The First Amendment protects your right to speak, but it doesn’t guarantee a venue. Nor does it include protection from disagreement.

At The Atlantic, Peter Beinart isn’t having it, and says political correctness is back. It had left? Well, never mind. Beinert recalls the horrors of the past —

In 1987, the University of Michigan reprimanded students working at the school radio station for broadcasting racially insensitive jokes. In 1990, after Stanford students painted a picture of Beethoven black, and added big lips, the university passed a speech code that prevented “personal vilification of students on the basis of their sex, race, color, handicap, religion, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin.” In 1991, George Mason punished fraternity students for dressing in blackface before being prevented from doing so by a federal judge. In 1993, African-American students at the University of Pennsylvania protested a student columnist’s denunciations of Martin Luther King by dumping 14,000 copies of The Daily Pennsylvanian in the trash. Later that year, Penn tried to punish a white student for yelling “Shut up, you water buffalo” at a group of largely African-American sorority sisters who were making noise outside his window.

Hey, Beinart, I can remember when a thousand paratroopers were deployed to Little Rock so that a handful of African American students could safely attend high school classes. I remember when a U.S. Air Force veteran named James Meredith had to sue the University of Mississippi to be allowed to attend, because he was black. Meredith had to be protected by U.S. Marshalls on campus. The white segregationist riots that accompanied this event resulted in two deaths. Trashing 14,000 copies of the Daily Pennsylvanian isn’t exactly in the same ball park, is it?

The fact is, when you leave academia and get a job you can get fired for racial and gender insensitivity, so you might as well learn to can it while you’re still in college. Much of the Real World doesn’t put up with that crap, either. You’re free to say what you like, but you are not free from the consequences.

Beinart wrings his hands because everybody feels victimized.

Once again, campuses are witnessing a clash of the supposedly victimized. Maher paints himself as a man bravely violating politically correct orthodoxy to tell truths about Islam that many American liberals fear acknowledging. Muslim students on campus want their campuses to be a refuge from what many consider the demonization and persecution of Muslims in post-9/11 America. And once again, the clash is bringing out the worst in both sides.

And it appears students at UC Berkeley chose to stand with their Muslim fellow students and have told Maher to take his bigotry somewhere else, and that’s also an example of free speech in action. Maher has a very public venue for expressing his opinions, and I’m sure other venues are open to him, so his freedom of speech is not being squelched. It could be argued that Maher should have been allowed to speak and that the students who objected to his speech could just not go. But, as I said, it’s their campus, and at least they give a damn.

But my larger point is that “political correctness” wasn’t originally about blatant hate speech, and bigotry is not “politically incorrect.” It’s bigotry.

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The Progressive Paradox

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big picture stuff

At The Atlantic, Derek Thompson writes “Why Middle-Class Americans Can’t Afford to Live in Liberal Cities.” In brief, housing costs, and income disparities, tend to be higher in “blue” metro areas than “red” ones, and this is supposed to point to a failure in liberalism. What follows is my comment to the article.

This article should be studied as an exercise in logical fallacy. First, the argument that metro areas must be run by “liberals” if voters there preferred Obama in the last election rather falls apart if you look at the actual metro governments. For example, New York City’s last two mayors, Giuliani and Bloomberg, were both right-of-center by most measures. When When Bill de Blasio was elected last year you could hear America reaching for the smelling salts — what, a real honest-to-God progressive liberal in charge of a major U.S. city? The end is nigh …

To me, the situation the article describes doesn’t say anything about whether “liberals” or “conservatives” are more committed to affordable housing, because nobody anywhere has done much about it in recent years. As I remember, the last time “affordable housing” was a noticeable part of a national political campaign Reagan was running for president. He made fun of the idea; the newspapers were full of “for rent” ads, so what was the problem? I remember this because I was living in New Jersey at the time and struggling to find a decent place I could afford for myself and two small children. Let’s just say I was not a Reagan voter.

Rent control was an attempt to keep the poor from being priced out of their apartments, but the side effects of that made matters worse in the long run. After the disaster of badly planned high-rise urban housing projects of decades ago, I’ve seen few attempts to come up with new solutions.

So nobody’s doing much, and affordable housing happens if it happens. Red states tend to have lower taxes but also lower property values. Many, such as Texas, have an overabundance of really cheap, and still empty, land. The coastal cities, by contrast, are often out of land; there’s no empty space to expand to. “New” development requires tearing down existing densely occupied neighborhoods. Inland cities, red and blue, are over-sprawled, and over time pockets of suburban poverty such as Ferguson, Missouri, have developed. So “cheap” is not necessarily “problem free.”

“Red” areas often have minimal regulations regarding housing standards, so there always are trailer parks with iffy sanitation and potentially hazardous conditions, but they’re cheap. Here in the NYC area even “affordable” housing is too expensive for low-wage workers. That so many manage to find places for themselves anyway is a testament to human ingenuity.

But the single biggest reason the “blue” metro areas are more expensive is that so many of the affluent want to live there, in spite of the higher taxes. We might reflect on why that is true. In the U.S. there is a correlation — not a perfect one, I acknowledge — between affluence and “blueness” — with some exceptions, more “liberal” leaning areas tend to be more prosperous than red ones. Are they prosperous because they are “liberal,” or liberal because they are prosperous? I propose that where people are more willing to tax themselves to pay for better school systems and nicer parks and other public works, there will be healthier economies and more “livable” cities, and the affluent naturally will want to live there. But that drives up housing costs and leaves the poor scrambling for places to live. So that’s a paradox.

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Why We’re Doomed, Part the Infinity

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Obama Administration

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More on the Kansas Experiment

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elections, Republican Party

Y’know, maybe we all should have been paying more attention to Kansas. I wasn’t fully aware that Gov. Brownback had not only refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA; he actually privatized it.

Let’s start with what looks like a re-written press release from 2011.

Gov. Sam Brownback and his administration’s top social service officials today unveiled their proposal for reforming the state’s Medicaid program.

In a nutshell, it would expand managed care to all currently on Medicaid, including nursing home residents, the disabled and the mentally ill. It also would prompt reshuffling of departments at four state agencies. Officials said the plan would save the state $12.5 million in the coming fiscal year and a total of about $367 million over the next five years.

The plan was to turn the Kansas Medicaid program over to private companies, who as we know always do everything better for less money, right? Anyway, the retooled Medicaid program was named KanCare, and lots of stuff got shuffled around from this department to that one, which obviously was another cost saving. So how did it work out? This is now:

Since Brownback’s inauguration, 1,414 Kansans with disabilities have been forced off of the Medicaid physical disability (PD) waiver. In January of 2013, Brownback became the first governor to fully privatize Medicaid services, claiming he would save the state $1 billion in 5 years without having to cut services, eligibility, or provider payments. Now, under Brownback’s “KanCare,” PD waiver cases are handled by for-profit, out-of-state, Fortune 500, publicly-traded managed care services. Kansas has contracts with three managed care profiteers — United Healthcare, Sunflower State Health Plan (owned by Centene Corporation), and AmeriGroup. Amerigroup and Centene each gave $2,000, Kansas’ maximum allowed contribution, to Brownback’s re-election campaign. …

… Brownback’s claims of savings without risking patient eligibility is mere sleight of hand when taking a closer look at the numbers. When Kansas experienced a $217 million revenue shortfall in April of 2014, Brownback actually broke a promise made to the federal government as to how many people with disabilities would be served. When applying to launch the KanCare program, the Brownback administration originally promised the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services it would accommodate 7,874 people on the PD waiver, according to numbers from the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. After the first revenue shortfall, Brownback changed that number to 5900 – nearly a 25 percent cut in services amounting to $26 million.

Note that some of the services being cut could mean life or death for some people.

Death panels? Do I hear death panels?

One of the people whose services were cut complained.

Bullers, a former 15-year veteran reporter for the Kansas City Star and father of two, fought from the time of his managed care review in January of 2013 all the way to New Years Eve of 2013 for his full-time care to be restored. He used his status as a public figure in Kansas to organize awareness campaigns in both traditional and social media, and even arranged a meeting with Gov. Brownback. Bullers said he “got really pissed off” at Brownback’s response to a question he asked about not having a home care provider available if his ventilator came loose, stopping air from getting into his lungs.

“He said, ‘Just go over to your neighbor’s house and they’ll put it back on for you,’” Bullers said. “I mean, here’s the governor of the state of Kansas, telling me that, you know, your life isn’t worth it, that it’s okay if you die and leave two small children without a father.”

Death panels!

About a year ago The Pitch published a long expose on the screwup that is KanCare. The points it makes, in brief — Privatizing a service doesn’t make the cost go away; it just shift the cost around. And then in addition the private companies take profits and administrative costs, so less money goes to the patient. How in the world this scheme was going to save the state money seems to have been magical thinking. Ultimately the only way to make the program less expensive is just to pay for less stuff.

And I understand there have been issues with the private companies failing to disclose information to the state that has frustrated people responsible for eliminating fraud. See also KanCare companies lost money in first year.

And, of course, Brownback turned down million of federal dollars by refusing to expand Medicaid.

The wonder to me is that while Brownback has been trailing his Democratic opponent in polls, it hasn’t been by a huge amount. Apparently a substantial percentage of Kansas voters intend to return this loser to office.

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When Stupid Is an End In Itself

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economy, Obama Administration, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Of all the many signs the U.S. is no longer a great nation — big, still wealthy, powerful, conspicuous, yes, but not great — the fact that we can no longer organize ourselves to so much as fix the flippin’ bridges, never mind build new ones, stands out. Much of the nation’s greatness, and weatlh, came from doing big, splashy things — the transcontinental railroad; the Panama Canal, the Hoover Dam, the moon landing.  Some of these things were done primarily by government, and some by public and private partnership. For example, while the transcontinental railroad was built by private companies, those companies depended on government land grants and loans, and the route itself was laid out by government surveyors. If Washington hadn’t pushed it, it never would have been done.

Paul Krugman writes that infrastructure investment is precisely what the country needs, economically and otherwise. It would both boost the economy by getting more dollars into peoples’ pockets and, y’know, fix the bridges before they fall down. But because of current prevailing political ideology, no, we can’t.

And it’s all about ideology, an overwhelming hostility to government spending of any kind. This hostility began as an attack on social programs, especially those that aid the poor, but over time it has broadened into opposition to any kind of spending, no matter how necessary and no matter what the state of the economy.

We’ve reach point at which stupid is an end in itself.

You can get a sense of this ideology at work in some of the documents produced by House Republicans under the leadership of Paul Ryan, the chairman of the Budget Committee. For example, a 2011 manifesto titled “Spend Less, Owe Less, Grow the Economy” called for sharp spending cuts even in the face of high unemployment, and dismissed as “Keynesian” the notion that “decreasing government outlays for infrastructure lessens government investment.” (I thought that was just arithmetic, but what do I know?)

Here’s a crucial point —

Never mind that the economic models underlying such assertions have failed dramatically in practice, that the people who say such things have been predicting runaway inflation and soaring interest rates year after year and keep being wrong; these aren’t the kind of people who reconsider their views in the light of evidence. Never mind the obvious point that the private sector doesn’t and won’t supply most kinds of infrastructure, from local roads to sewer systems; such distinctions have been lost amid the chants of private sector good, government bad.

If you look closely at most of the prominent Republicans in Washington, one of the striking things about them is that their bios often reveal them to be the creatures they claim to hate — lifelong political / government apparatchiks.  Although they pride themselves on being friends to business, most of them have worked most of their lives in government and politics. I’m sure there must be some exceptions, but most have never actually run a company or so much as managed an assembly line. Paul Ryan is a good example; according to bios I have read, his only non-political private sector employment was a summer job for Oscar Meyer, during which he got to drive the weinermobile.

I can never tell how much they believe their own crap, but basically we’re dealing with people who are long on ideological theory and short on experience. Unfortunately, you can say the same thing for most of our Captains of Industry, most of whom have no idea how the products they are selling actually get made.

It’s like a perfect storm of derp. The people in charge of things, public and private, have no idea how stuff gets done and no idea what stuff needs to get done. And the country is at their capricious and greedy mercy.

And it hardly matters that the states that have put the “Spend Less, Owe Less, Grow the Economy” mantra into practice have had disastrous results. See, for example, “The Great Kansas Tea Party Disaster” by Mark Binelli:

“That word, “experiment,” has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his “pro-growth tax policy” would act “like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy,” but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas’ neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he’d enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.

“Brownback hardly stands alone among the class of Republican governors who managed to get themselves elected four years ago as part of the anti-Obama Tea Party wave by peddling musty supply-side fallacies. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich – whose press releases claim he’s wrought an “Ohio Miracle” – has presided over a shrinking economy, this past July being the 21st consecutive month in which the state’s job growth has lagged behind the national average. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, whose union-busting inadvertently helped kick off the Occupy movement, cut taxes by roughly $2 billion – yet his promise to create 250,000 new private-sector jobs during his first term has fallen about 150,000 jobs short, and forecasters expect the state to face a $1.8 billion budgetary shortfall by mid-2017. A recent analysis by the Detroit Free Press, meanwhile, laid out how the tax policies of Gov. Rick Snyder, a wealthy entrepreneur who campaigned in Michigan as a nerdy technocrat, have resulted in businesses paying less ($1.7 billion less per year, to be exact), individuals paying more ($900 million per year) and – here’s the kicker – job growth slowing every year since Snyder’s cuts have been enacted.”

It will not matter that teabag economics crash and burn in the real world, because stupid has become an end in itself. Not taxing and not spending is an end in itself; that it sinks budgets and costs jobs does not matter.

And when the bridges begin to buckle, some Reince Priebus clone will trot out and say those bridges were built by Democrats and the fact that they finally collapsed after decades of neglect proves government doesn’t work.

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